Grace Corry talks to Fodhla Cronin O’Reilly, the producer of Lady Macbeth.
Set in rural England, 1865, Katherine (Florence Pugh) is stifled by her loveless marriage to a bitter man twice her age, whose family are cold and unforgiving. When she embarks on a passionate affair with a young worker on her husband’s estate, a force is unleashed inside her, so powerful that she will stop at nothing to get what she wants.
What was it about this project that appealed to you?
It really started with Nikolai Leskov’s novella and Catrina, the protagonist in the book – she was just such an intriguing, complex female protagonist that I really wanted to explore her story. Plus there was the chance to work with William Oldroyd, the director, and Alice Birch, the writer, who adapted the book.
Both have had a remarkable couple of years, particularly in the theatre. How did the relationship come about between the 3 of you?
Somebody recommended I watch a short film called Best, which was the Winner of Best Short Film Competition at Sundance London in 2013. I watched it and fell in love with it. I thought it was incredibly original, brilliantly executed and so clever. I wanted to meet him and when we met we got on like a house on fire. During that meeting he told me had just met Alice and that she had an idea to adapt this Russian novella. She hadn’t written anything yet but we both loved the novella and decided to join forces and started developing the project together and adapting it and setting it in 1865 rural England rather than the Russian setting of the novella.
What was the thinking behind that?
Isolation is such a huge theme in the book and we felt the time and the setting in Northumberland in rural England would reflect that theme. We did look at contemporising it but we just felt we wanted to protect the period element of the story and we were drawn to British period dramas and wanted to do something a little bit different with that. We felt this sort of story would be a way of doing that.
For a period drama you had a fairly small budget – how much of a challenge was that as a producer.
It was definitely a challenge making a period film on such a small budget but we figured it out and because of the way we made the film in terms of us being a team of equal partners in it together, which it made it easier in ways. Yes, it was a challenge – but it was fun figuring it out!
Grace Corry takes a look at Paddy Cahill’s exploration of Amanda Coogan’s durational performance art practice.
The one-man production that is Paddy Cahill returns in homage to long-time friend and collaborator, Amanda Coogan in this intriguing, frank depiction of a life dedicated to an uncharted art in Ireland. Cahill, who shoots, directs and edits all his own work has been crucial in documenting Coogan’s performances, beginning with Yellow, which premiered at the Dublin Film Festival in 2012, followed by this seminal piece which focuses both on Coogan’s life and work, the influences that brought her to where she is now, and her lifelong study of the body’s language.
At the centre of Long Now is Coogan’s most notable performance to date, I’ll Sing You a Song from Around the Town, an ambitious undertaking whereby Coogan performed in the RHA Gallery for a gruelling 6 hours a day, 5 days a week for 6 weeks. The piece was an exploration of durational/endurance performance, the likes of which had never been seen in Ireland before. Such was its popularity that it became the most visited and successful exhibitions in the gallery’s history.
Performance art, hinged on time and site, combines a range of visual arts with the human body at its core. After training under Marina Abramovic it is no wonder that Coogan’s interests lie in the sensational and the risky, often politically and religiously charged.
Time is of the utmost importance to Coogan’s work – it is something she explains as a concept, a facilitator to the relationship between audience and performer. It offers, she believes, an infinity through the repetition of her movements, a slow and enduring style that both performer and filmmaker propose as an ‘infinite loop’ by which the audience can imagine the performer continuing to perform, long after they have left the space. The art form itself is exquisite, and is presented so by Cahill, who cuts and angles his shots to challenge our ever decreasing attention spans, as Coogan does, lingering, dwelling on the images that are not particularly cinematic but are true to Coogan’s design. The opening ten minutes of the film, for example, are close up on Coogan during I’ll Sing You a song from Around the Town, unflinching, her condition not even allowing a single blink, her movements contesting the speed at which everything must be consumed in modern society. She asks us to slow down, to breath. Cahill adopts this mantra by upholding the principles of performance art in his film – long, worshipping and often beautiful shots of Coogan with her work, with other practitioners performing her pieces. This breaks occasionally in attempts to offer a candid moment with Coogan, but at some of these points she seems disengaged, perhaps removed from her work, from the reason the camera was there at all and if the film fell down at any point it was these comparatively hammy depictions of Coogan’s ‘daily life’.
The accounts shared by Coogan throughout the film were carefully selected by Cahill, pieces he recorded of her talking to others, often students of hers, to eliminate the formalities of the interview and questions that would seem contrived had they been asked by Cahill (he would have known the answers all too well). I would have liked to see a single, if short, conversation/address from Coogan though, a more clear cut expression of the woman behind the art as opposed to selected sections of exchanges with other people. The answers may have been known to Cahill but probably not to the layman. Coogan the artist was present but the person behind it didn’t truly appear.
Having said that, Cahill captures sublimely the nature of the work created by Coogan, her love and respect for her art and in doing so has made it meaningful and most importantly, accessible to Irish audiences. It’s a lovely film, and will undoubtedly last as a record of the avant-garde existing in Irish culture, a snap shot of performance art stepping into the light.
Amanda Coogan: Long Now screened on Saturday, 18th February 2017 at the IFI as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival
After legging it around the city like a headless you-know-what because I had confused myself about the location of this screening when it was in fact the date I got wrong, my sympathiser and an all-round super sound girl (from the Lighthouse box-office) informed me that Element were having a screening that very evening at Mattress Mick’s Pearse street store. Just when all seemed lost, when I was preparing to shuttle away to Smithfield square for a good mope, the single best way I could ever have experienced this documentary presented itself. On a mattress in Mattress Mick’s shop, hobnobbing with the film’s ordinary subjects. The Universe does indeed work in mysterious ways…
The shop is… different. Even without the balloon pillars or the floor-standing speakers blasting passers-by, or the life-size cutouts of the man himself, the shop would be very easily made out by its vivid pink, yellow and purple exterior. Mick Flynn, or Mattress Mick, stands proudly out-front, smiling and willing and proud of his now small but rejuvenated empire. He and his family are well known in the area, going back through generations and an assortment of trades, and, if the locals are anything to go by, he is better identified in these parts by his reputable humour than his “rare” look.
I’d like not to give a scene by scene here as much as I’ll try to engage with the film’s significance, it’s timeliness, and it’s probable that the whole country will see this one anyway. Invited inside the now-famous store, ushered by the informality of what feels like a family gathering, everyone is beaming. Paul Kelly, Micks’ good friend and the driving force behind his online persona gives me a preview of a song he convinced Richie Kavannagh to write for and about Mick, a show of his endless enthusiasm for Mick’s success and the opportunity therein for his own. Director Colm Quinn may have struck lucky for his first feature documentary, and perhaps his subjectivity too.
The chance for opportunity forms a huge part of this story, and the film equally follows Paul’s journey through his own reinvention after being made redundant twice, going through a painful separation at the same time as fending off debt collectors. Fed up and working part-time for Mick, he decides to invest what little capital he has in his own venture, Shoot Audition, some green screen and basic shooting equipment, you know the rest. Hilarious scenes of Mick’s outright discomfort feature throughout, of him making a “fool” of himself “in front of people he knows”, clear insecurities of a local man poo-pooed by Paul’s pure determination to see his vision through, with all the spirit and goodwill akin to old friends. It’s the kind of anomalous relationship you’d find yourself continuously smiling at because as a pair they are as unlikely as they are committed.
From the “Back with a Bang” videos conception to its end, this film is the tale of triumph in the face of imminent bankruptcy, avoided by a remarkable duo who come together, almost serendipitously after years of not meeting, to save each other’s skin. There are moments of pure, raw emotion, particularly when Paul talks about getting his family out of their tiny inner-city apartment to a better life, or where Mick talks about selling his family home to pay off debts. This story is as human as it gets, and reflexive documentary aims at its best to capture the times we live in, the way we are in our worst and best moments, and relay them so simplistically that we can only see ourselves reflected; Quinn does this well.
That’s what this film exudes – tenacity, and it’s a welcome addition to this golden era of Irish documentary. Filmed over three years, it captures in painful and sometimes revelatory detail the hardships brought on by austerity, the challenges faced by people and the reconciliatory role that laughter and positivity play, much called upon coping mechanisms of the past decade.
Colm Quinn’s film is more than the success story of a salesman turned internet star/national treasure, it’s a warm and familiar story of nationhood and, it has to be said, success!
Ahead of the 2016 edition of the IFI Documentary Festival (22 – 25 September 2016), Grace Corry talks to David O’Mahony, Head of Programming, and Sunniva O’Flynn, Head of Irish Film Programming, about what to expect from this year’s festival.
DIR: Michael Moore • CAST: Michael Moore, Krista Kiuru, Tim Walker
You may or may not be surprised to know that Michael Moore almost kicked the bucket this year. Having barely survived a bout of pneumonia which did away with the fifty-date promotional tour planned for his latest documentary, Where to Invade Next, both film and filmmaker seem to be recovering well. With no output in over six years and no Moore to encourage people to go see the film, the thing looked set to flop. He refused several offers to buy the film, including one from Netflix, driven by previous theatrical success and the seemingly uncontrollable urge to agitate.
The film follows Moore’s journey around Europe, cherry picking legislations and cultures that might better suit American society, with healthcare, prison systems, war, drugs and education up for interrogation. He pitches the American flag in the home of a loved up Italian couple who enjoy extensive paid vacations, two-hour work breaks to enjoy lunch with the family, maternity leave and big bonuses; he pitches it in Finland where high IQs are the result of short school days, no homework and the exclusion of private education; Slovenia which offers free third level education for everyone, native or not; Germany, where your doctor can send you to a spa for three weeks if your stressed (its government funded), and where fifty percent of corporate boards are made up of workers, like that of Volkswagen, where employees urged the government to prosecute after the emissions scandal, and where shameful chapters in German history are taught in school and remembered with commemorative public signs that would have addressed Jews. He visits France, where balanced gourmet three-course lunches are served in school cafeterias, and sex education is taught in terms of respect and affection for one’s partner (juxtaposed with a news report of a Catholic American high-school experiencing an outbreak of chlamydia); Portugal, where upholding human dignity and the decriminalisation of drugs has drastically reduced recidivism. He pitches the flag in Norway, where rehabilitation has been the main stay of the prison system, and prison guards make orientation videos that can only be likened to Live Aid; Tunisia, where government funded women’s clinics ensures the wellbeing of all its citizens, and Iceland, where all the shitty bankers went to jail and where women hold key positions in power, women who have brought the country out of the red.
For all the ethical and truth concerns around the preferential framing of Moore’s work (the agency his presence and participation give to his own opinions, often misleading editing coupled with anecdotal evidence), and considering that there is a wealth of countries that America could learn something from, Where to Invade Next is an enjoyable display of socialist propaganda, imbued with all the passion and humour he often deploys to frustrate the daylights out of you.
The film is not an opportunity for the rest of the world to scoff at America, although at times it is hard not to. Moore’s usual ironic, reductive approach is not so much about unattainable possibilities as it is tangible actuality. The opening montage overlays grandiose presidential speeches with American reality, like that of the thousands of servicemen and women who have had their homes repossessed whilst fighting for their country. He wants people to question their circumstance. In politically uncertain times for the US, Moore is selling a better way of life, liberal fantasies, ideals satirically subverted every time he pitches the American flag.
As formidable as he is irritating, it is no coincidence that Moore’s subjectivity coincides with a hugely historic moment in US presidential history (he partly blames his illness on the support he gave to Bernie Sanders’ Democratic campaign). The documentary has no real solutions but is nevertheless stirring and at times inspiring. It ends with Moore recalling his experience of being there when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. Change is always possible and often gives little warning. This beacon of hope is his contribution change, however facetious it may seem to outsiders.
Grace Corry attended Spotlight at the IFI, a day dedicated to focusing on Irish film and television; reviewing the past year and considering current trends in production, distribution and consumption of new work.
Every year at the IFI, bands of filmmakers, film lovers and film academics gather together to take a look back at the year in film and television, picking apart and analysing all that went into making our indigenous industry tick the way it did. The focus this year drew on the huge disparities between men and women working in film and television, and although gender inequality has been a hot topic in the last number of years, particularly in the Arts, the statistics never cease to amaze.
Kicking off the day with a retrospective, Dr. Roddy Flynn (DCU) returned for another session with collaborator Dr. Tony Tracy (Huston, NUIG) to examine evolving trends in Irish cinema. Together they have written extensively on the history of cinema in Ireland and are primarily concerned with policy, lending this knowledge and research to the exploration of common themes which were not previously considered essential to Irish film. This change, they argue, has allowed Irish films to travel and to revel on the international stage. In its new found plurality, Irish cinema has become unconcerned with regionally based storytelling, stepping away from the common themes of history, family and criminality towards the glimmer of transnationality, centering “on the now”. That is, films that work for everyone but are “not necessarily trying to fit”, argued Tracy, “they just do”.
Also under consideration by the pair was national identity; how, in the light of all this change, can Irish film be identified as Irish? To be financially viable, film production requires international collaboration and the product needs to be able to travel. Room had Canada, Mammal had Luxemburg, Viva had Cuba. Even most of our biggest names like Fassbender and Aiden Gillen have become international characters – Brooklyn was the coveted Saoirse Ronan’s first Irish film, a fact that demonstrates and ties into Tracy’s final point in which he invokes Benedict Anderson’s theory of imagined communities, that we are letting go of what was previously considered definitive and embracing a deep, human imaginative curiosity.
Beginning the days gender-focused talks in the later morning session was esteemed guest Francine Raveney, the head and founder of the European Women’s Audio-Visual Network (EWA) to talk through some of the measures being taken by the organisation to address the gender imbalances in indigenous industries across the continent, working with Eurimage (Council of Europe Cinema Support Fund) to promote gender mainstreaming and encourage reflection on stereotypical gender assignments, such as those working in technical posts. Several countries, including France, Germany and Sweden, took part in both qualitative and quantitative research into how many women were working in their respective industries, and also reviewed responses from over 900 professionals working in these countries about their experiences. The EWA also acts as a watchdog and works with these countries to implement models like those adopted in Sweden (50/50 quota policy) and Norway (Moviement) – strategies for achieving this included offering targeted training courses, providing network opportunities and carrying out research and follow on advocacy work.
The pan-European research for policy change spearheaded by Raveney found that many countries were unaware of any inequality (94% of Germans), as low as 12% of targeted funds go to first-time directors where only half of the 44% of female graduates were working. Women just aren’t trusted to do the job, a myth that was echoed throughout the day’s presentations. There is a brighter side; the EWA and Eurimage have announced a new strategic policy for 2016/17 which includes new studies, new prizes awarded to female directors only and masterclasses designed to cater to working mothers, for example.
An energetic panel discussion between script consultant Mary Kate O’Flanagan, Dr. Annie Doona of the IFB, Dr. Susan Liddy of UL, Francene Raveney, and chaired by Siobhan Bourke of the Abbey filled the afternoon slot, each taking to the podium to raise issues stemming from the ‘unconscious bias’ that plagues the industry. Coming from various places in the industry, it was a heated, informative and maddening analysis of what has been happening across Europe. Susan Liddy presented responses she had collected from women who had applied to the Irish Film Board, ranging from anger to shear disappointment. One wrote about how she was simply ignored by the IFB, another felt that the notes she received back from the reader were diabolical and personally offensive, and others wrote about lip service and the lack of leadership, summarising with a simple question: what are the IFB doing differently to implement their six-point plan? Dr. Doona, acting chair of the IFB, stood firm in defence but was well tested by the other panellists, as well as fending off questions from the roving mic where attendees put forward their own issues, ageism being a big one as well as the gender imbalance of the IFB readers. The absence of others bodies was also noted – until recently the BAI didn’t even acknowledge that there was an issue. It goes without saying that it was like watching five old friends back and forth over a topic that had compelled the people in IFI’s cinema 2 to gather. After listening intently for over an hour, I can safely say that any despair I felt for missing that sacred day in the Abbey last November had lifted.
Lunch was followed by a screening of Where My Ladies?, a DIT documentary by female graduates, where interviews with women working in the Arts helped to cast a further light on the issues of the day. Amongst others, Maureen Hughes and Dearbhla Walsh talked about their own entries into the industry, as well as what had kept them there and the issues currently facing young women. Joy McKeon, one of the filmmakers, stressed that aim of their film was not to point blame or to exclude, they hope for as much of a male audience as female, and a collaborative effort between the sexes in creating awareness. The film will be hitting the festival circuit.
Ireland’s longest standing female director, Pat Murphy, took the soap box in an address that was, as expected, the cherry. Spanning back to her work as part of the first wave of Irish filmmakers, she spoke about her current work teaching in Singapore, and traced her career, turning each of the ups and downs into a point of encouragement, points warmly welcomed to those aspiring to someday be successful in their own right.
Wrapping up the day was the newest addition to the annual event, In the Pipeline, where producer Katie Holly (Queen of Ireland) and documentarian Ken Wardrop (His and Hers) talked about their upcoming films, their own industry backgrounds and the best ways to get into the business (which naturally opened up some contentious comments from the floor), and, most notably, spoke about the breakdown in the dividing factors between policy and cultural influences and the propagation of gender mainstreaming.
The day can only be described as a big success. It was, as always, efficiently facilitated by Sunniva O’Flynn and her team, and it will be a day that is repeatedly referred to in the ongoing battle for equality.
Grace Corry talks to the IFI’s Head of Irish Film Programming, Sunniva O’Flynn, about the upcoming IFI annual event Spotlight – a day dedicated to focusing on Irish film and television; reviewing the past year and considering current trends in production, distribution and consumption of new work. This year there will be a particular focus on women in the Irish film and television industry and an examination of moves towards creation of gender equality in the sector.
In February, the IFI hosted a comprehensive retrospective of the work of Cathal Black.
Sunniva O’Flynn Head of Irish Film Programming at the IFI writes “Part of Ireland’s ‘First Wave’ of independent filmmakers in the 1970s and ‘80s, Black began to explore the contradictions, problems and preoccupations within Irish society in a way which hadn’t before been attempted in film. He wanted to “make Irish films for Irish audiences, pictures that are recognisably Irish but stand up to European notions of style . . . to be truthful to our own visual interpretation of this country and reach Irish audiences our way.”
Black’s narratives of distinctly drawn and wholly sympathetic individuals are often bleak but leavened by dark humour, or historical and enlivened by ingrained and powerful passions. He burrows into the national psyche to find unsettling tales of unease – of alienation, homosexuality, prostitution, emigration, poverty and despair. His characters fight to escape the shibboleths of Ireland’s heroic past and the injustices of its present.
His early films are wrought in a stark, social-realist tone. His later, more generously budgeted 35mm features employ more traditional narrative modes to tell powerful, character-driven period tales. His feature documentaries explore the lives of determinedly off-beat individuals in features that are handsome and revealing. His latest film, Butterfly (in its theatrical premiere), returns to fictional form in a finely acted psychological drama about a young woman avoiding demons from her past.
Cathal Black, activist, Aosdána member and filmmaker, has sustained a visionary cinematic practise for almost 40 years – long may he continue to unsettle and engage.”
Grace Corry glides through Claire Dix’s portrait of Joan Denise Moriarty, who fought to bring ballet to all corners of Ireland. We Are Moving: Memories of Miss Moriarty screened at the Audi Dublin International Film Festival.
There are several culturally expressive art forms unique to Ireland, art forms that tell tales of our past, inspired by everything from mythology to politics, past and present, their methods and disciplines tied to definitive historical tradition. In its aspirations, Irish dancing was one such practise, created and performed by peasants, its style ancient and ritualistic, coveted by the people for centuries.
Ballet, however, had no such gravity in Irish. Ballet, far outside the parameters of a conservatism which dominated the artistic landscape of twentieth century Ireland, communicated a freedom of sexuality, in its inherent celebration of the human body, performed in scenes of love and life which were alien to a young, new State. Not forgetting, it was an art with all the appearance of the ruling class, decadent in its style, movements and gestures, all of which led to a general feeling of hostility upon its introduction, from not only the Irish dancing community but the whole country. The enigmatic subject of Claire Dix’s latest film sought the redefinition of dance in Ireland by bringing a new form of expression, and controversially, by fusing Irish dance and with this strange thing that was ballet.
We Are Moving: Memories of Miss Moriarty tells the story of Joan Denise Moriarty, a radical and prolific figure in the dancing community who sought to revolutionise the Irish dancing tradition that she had been so devoted to. After studying at the Rambert School of Ballet in London, she returned for a holiday to Mallow in Cork, a place she considered home, with her dream of introducing ballet in tow. After a chance meeting with an old friend and sceptic, her dream was prompted into action. “I can’t stand it!” he told her, “Well, what is it? A man chasing a woman around the stage”. From there it was decided. “I remember thinking – I’ll make you eat those words yet. I’m going to one day come back home and I’m going to start a ballet school and a ballet company and you’ll all accept it”. So it began.
What is noted quite early in the film is the economic state of Ireland at the time. WW11 was still in the air, and for the first six months she had not one single student. Undeterred and with curiosity growing in Cork, things were soon underway in a city where there was little to do for idle hands. One by one, young girls and grown men came, her school becoming both a place of learning and a place to escape the realities of unemployment. Revered and feared in equal measure by those she taught, the most important lesson to Miss Moriarty (as she is referred to throughout the film) was teaching the joy of movement, survived by each of the students that shared their memories, and shared some moves. “I’ll die dancing” laughed one eighty two year old friend, twirling around a studio.
Against the odds, Moriarty continued the pursuit of her dream and eventually brought ballet to every corner of Ireland, including the North during times of trouble. The school became the Cork Ballet Company, and with enough members became Cork Ballet Troupe, Moriarty collaborating extensively with Irish composer Aloys Fleischmann and touring the country. This improbability eventually landed the troupe New York with an interpretation of Playboy of the Western World, accompanied by The Chieftains. But this great success, sadly, marked the beginning of the end for Moriarty. On a world stage, her teachings came into question. The Brinson Report, commissioned by the Arts Council in 1985 concluded that her training was not as substantial as she had claimed. After calls for her resignation from the company she had founded, Moriarty reluctantly conceded, falling into a deep depression and all but vanishing from the scene. She died in 1992, having led a life shrouded in mystery, with no evidence of where she really came from, what year she was born, or of any family save her mother, although it is believed she was born illegitimately. Suggested years for her birth have been 1912, 1916 (which her driver’s license says) and 1920 (according to her passport). She never married despite plenty of opportunities, dedicating her whole life to her work, a fragmented lonely life epitomised by her dying will which stipulated that none of her dances ever be performed again, having never properly said goodbye to those who danced them.
Director Claire Dix makes great use of montage in this film, layering music, old show footage and tape recordings of interviews with Moriarty, footed by recollections and dance routines performed by the aged troupe in great humour, brought together by good memories. There is little to no footage of she who taught herself to play the war pipes, an element which serves Dix’s intension of allowing each visual and audio match to “wash over” the spectator, as a memory might. It is a sorry story about an eccentric who gave everything to her craft and to those whom she mentored whose memory has been carefully picked. If you’d like to know more, Ruth Fleischmann, daughter to Aloys, is writing a biography. I would think it’s equally worth checking out.
Atlantic is the latest film from the makers of the multi-award-winning documentary, The Pipe (2010). Directed by Risteard O’Domhnaill and edited by Nigel O’Regan, the film follows the fortunes of three small fishing communities – in Ireland, Norway and Newfoundland – which are at turns united and divided by the Atlantic Ocean.
Grace Corry sat down with director Risteard O’Domhnaill ahead of the film’s screening at the Audi Dublin International Film Festival to discuss the mounting challenges the communities face within their own industries.
DIR:Tom McCarthy • WRI: Josh Singer, Tom McCarthy • PRO: Blye Pagon Faust, Steve Golin, Michael Sugar • DOP: Masanobu Takayanagi • ED: Tom McArdle • DES: Stephen H. Carter • MUS: Howard Shore • CAST: Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, Mark Ruffalo
Modern history has been forever dirtied, tarnished by organised, uniformed mortal sin. Fifteen years of worldwide media coverage has revealed the horrific experiences of what is understood to be hundreds of thousands of victims of clerical abuse, inflicted by members of the Catholic Church. And now, one of the world’s most powerful institutions, bewildered and suspended in the spotlight, finds itself a very uncomfortable position. In spite of the many words humans use to apologize, the Church’s reluctance to admit any wrongdoing has served to underscore how alien it has become to modern culture, and in turn, this is how our culture has come to represent it. As frozen out Florida priest John Gallagher poignantly pointed out this week, they are an organisation “so far behind that they think they’re ahead”.
These phenomenal events of the past number of decades have been captured before in cinema: The Magdalene Sisters, Song for a Raggy Boy, more recently in Amy Berg’s shocking documentary Deliver Us from Evil and Alex Gibney’s Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God is to name but a few. Cinema has been a medium used to honour these victims; by listening to their stories it has offered empathy and compassion where there was none, and a culturally truthful response to something that originated in hurt and deceit.
That is one of the most prominent features of Tom McCarthy’s latest bidding, Spotlight. Joined by acclaimed ‘real-life to screen’ writer Josh Singer, the film tells the remarkable true story of a team of investigative journalists at the Boston Globe newspaper known as ‘Spotlight’, who broke the story on clerical abuse in the Boston diocese in 2001. The opening scene, set in 1976 in a Boston police precinct is glimpse at what was to come: a priest has been brought in on allegations of abuse, the victim and their mother are cajoled, arrangements are made for secrecy, said priest is collected by his superior who sweeps while the judiciaries hold the rug. This was the process, until a number of these stories reluctantly found their way onto the pages of the Globe newspaper, only to disappear again, almost unnoticed.
Fast forward to 2001 when a new editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) arrives at the paper and almost overnight the disappeared stories of reported abuse are back on the table. Encouraged by the first non-Bostonian editor in chief, the Spotlight team comprising of Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson (Keaton), Mike Rezendes (Ruffalo), Sasha Pfeiffer (Mc Adams) and Matt Carroll (D’Arcy James) start to dig, and with the surface barely scratched, cases of abuse, payoffs, smear campaigns, stolen documents and cover-ups begin to emerge. As the investigation quickly progresses, the sheer scale of what had happened in the Boston diocese became apparent – with the help of senior Catholic officials, in both the US and the Vatican, the most devoutly Catholic city in North America had been plagued by paedophile priest for decades, a sum of over 90 in total, whom had knowingly been shipped from parish to parish, given predatory free-reign and a thumbs up to sexually and spiritually abuse at will.
Visually, the films authenticity is marked by the somewhat non-descript decor, having shot much of the office scenes at the Boston Globe. Great efforts were made to ensure the production design and costume were reflective of the time, and succeed in being unobtrusive – you wouldn’t necessarily imagine a film set in 2001 as being a period piece but alas, ‘the times, they are a changin’.
The four leads have been hailed by their real life counter-parts for their adopted characterisations – dozens of trips were made by cast and crew to Boston to meet with victims, journalists and lawyers involved and it is apparent throughout, authentic to the bone. The ensemble is formidable and above all, the performances and McCarthy’s direction convey the importance of investigative journalism which is all but obsolete in a world of bloggers, and the vitality of a free press whose fundamental action is to keep our institutions in check. From a decidedly disadvantaged position, they took on world’s oldest government – whose corruption is unique to itself – and won. Before the credits roll, presented on screen are over two hundred countries which have had cases of a similar scale, ensuring we know the ugliest phenomenon imaginable is actually bigger than we can imagine.
Definitely worth catching, this one, even if you just want to kick back from a place of knowing and relish in the excavation of damning truth, which by now we are all familiar with. A harrowing story has been recounted here, and you’ll probably be pissed off for most of it but you’ll leave feeling a little ping of triumph, a pride in humanity, and maybe even a little further compelled in the great divide between the Catholic Church and everyone else.
P.s. It’s never graphic so the faint-hearted are catered for.
Grace Corry talks to Tom McCarthy, the director of the Oscar-nominated film Spotlight, the riveting true story of the team of Boston Globe reporters and editors that uncovered an unimaginable conspiracy to cover up clergy child abuse.
You can listen/download to the audio version of the interview:
Grace Corry hurries on down to Bargaintown, David Jazay’s film about Dublin’s Liffey quays and its inhabitants, which screened at the IFI Documentary Festival.
David Jazay once referred to himself as a “memory maintenance worker”, a reviver of lost or forgotten social and cultural histories, his work revolving around the documentation of changing urban and rural spaces and indeed spaces that had already been relegated to the past. Bargaintown – shown at the recent IFI Documentary Festival for the first time ever in Dublin – is case in point.
This feature-length documentary presents rarely seen footage of the Liffey quays and its inhabitants as a new wave of modernism swept through, photographed by Jazay from 1982 to 1992 and throughout 1988/9 when the film was made, detailing all the beloved characteristics that made it both a city community and an alluring, strange landscape. Captivated, David spent a decade documenting the architectural heritage of the docks as it evolved and even disappeared, replaced in the absence of imagination by radical office blocks, a decision seemingly made without any orientation toward the cultural and aesthetic future of the city, or indeed its history. The auction rooms that were once dotted all along the quays, side by side with family antique and furniture businesses, exist now only in the archives which, here, Jazay has so lovingly and comprehensively contributed to.
The opening moments of Bargaintown are set in total darkness – we sit in front of a blank screen nostalgically listening to the familiar voices of inner city traders selling fruit, as they air out into the theatre. Unaccompanied by the image a recognizable, almost inherent sound can afford an opportunity to engage in and enhance a filmic experience viscerally, and in this instance, did so from the outset. Buildings appear, the man and his camera first fixated on those which had fallen along the Liffey, the buildings that were just short of falling and the buildings that had fallen foul of fire, dilapidation and vandalism.
The city conditions were bad, and possibly some of the worst in that era of European capital history. Although this is reflected in many of the stories shared, the interviewee’s generally seem as light-hearted as you’d expect. We meet ‘The Mad Barber Ellis’, whose longing for the return of “civic pride” is subverted by his humorous (and somewhat foretelling) opinions about pollution and obesity. Mick Hoban of ‘The Workingman’s Club’ (now the ‘Workman’s’) muses with Jazay over possible reasons why the preservation laws put in place to protect Georgian Dublin were “knocked away”, or why the newly erected central bank was mistakenly built thirty feet higher than was permitted, stories told with a grin and a healthy measure of sarcasm. He returns at the end of the documentary to sing us out with ‘Ireland Mother Ireland’ from a bingo hall, preceded by singer Frank Quigley, who performs with his blues band mid-way through the film to a lively pub crowd, recorded with affection. Earlier on, Dick Tynan (who was present at the screening) also performed jazz drums from a corner of his furniture shop, music which Jazay plays over the ensuing lengthy shots from the street, thus merging the exotic and the ordinary.
Filmed in black and white on 16mm, this exhibition is a remarkable departure from cinematic depictions of Ireland up to that point. Shots of the shop fronts – whilst indulging Jazay’s fascination with signage and iconography – give emphasis to what would otherwise be considered mundane and unworthy of focus, shots which are now precious, demonstrating the meaning that can be exacted from a film that has no intention other than to observe, and perhaps eventually remind. At its purest, nostalgia compels a sense of truth in us, and Jazay’s greatest achievement in this sense was the significance he placed with the voices from within the environment, not forgetting the buildings themselves, or in fact Bargaintown, which is the only remaining furniture business from that time.
For an unobstructed, barely pre-Celtic Tiger depiction of life in 80s Dublin, catch this documentary anytime you can.
In 1982 a young exchange student David Jazay came to Ireland from Germany and, after beginning his time here on a photography project, embarked upon a 10-year odyssey of annual visits photographing and filming a Dublin that has long-since passed, One of his projects was to film the Liffey Quays, capturing the buildings in the area and the characterswho lived therein.
The result was Jazay’s 1988 film, co-directed with Judith Klinger, Bargaintown, a poetic record of life along the Quays in the late 1980s. This weekend, the IFI will screen a new digital restoration of Jazay’s original 16mm print as part of the IFI Documentary Festival.
Grace Corry spoke to David Jazay ahead of the film’s Dublin premiere.
Out of curiosity, why Bargaintown – the name?
Well it has nothing to do with the shop. It’s not even featured in the film. It’s just a cool title! We just nicked the name! Much later I found out that Alan Prendergast, the owner of the Bargaintown, loved the film. He badgered the IFI for a VHS copy of the work, which was the only thing that could have been seen; it was just an archival copy– and he’s probably the only person in Dublin who knows the film. But the film has nothing to do with shop.
What was it that drew you to the Dublin Quays?
I was drawn to the liveliness of it. A lot of people in Dublin seem to remember the Quays as being derelict, unsafe and quite dodgy. But I really enjoyed the antique shops and the small businesses and also, despite the heavy traffic, there was always life on the street, different characters roaming the streets. I have also always had a love of Irish craftsmanship that the buildings displayed, the traditional family business signage and the wonderful colour schemes of certain buildings. And although many of the buildings on the Quays were derelict, they had a certain beauty about them that I was drawn to.
It was a time of rapid changes, how apparent were those changes to you during your time in Ireland from 1982 – 1992?
Well, they were apparent. There was an urgency making the film. When I got started on the photography project I kind of slipped into it. It wasn’t like at the age of 16 I had a masterplan to dothe whole project. I didn’t know I would still be at it 10 years later! But it did of course become apparent in 1987 when I started to go to film school and I started to go about planning the project. It was quite apparent and really urgent as well. Also in that era in Germany at that time my generation were all about preservation and squatting movements – what you have now as anti-globalisation and reclaim the street movements – at that time it was all about preserving old neighbourhoods. So for a German person, it was very much a theme that people could relate to. So when I arrived here it was interesting. I expected to see more groups fighting for the buildings. I know there were some student movements in Harcourt Street, slightly before my time, but on the Quays there was nothing. I thought it was interesting to have that as a foreigner, to have that idea of the Quays as the lifeline of the visual façade to the city that was totally underused and not appreciated enough – and was now crumbling.
In the interviews conducted there seems to be a real sense of pathos among the locals about their lost community and their homes and the buildings they grew up in.You were somewhat objective – you saw beauty in the city centre in the buildings that were crumbling. Was it difficult to strike a balance of representation between the structure of the aesthetics you wanted to achieve for the film and for the social actors and their environment and giving them a voice in the film.
With the buildings, what I wanted to achieve was a sense of faded glamour and beauty because they were all like fine Georgian buildings. Had the area been restored at that point as it could have been, it would have been immensely more beautiful than what it is now. The stuff they put up was really tacky. It was a wasted opportunity.
With the locals, we were quite straight forward – we just asked people how they felt about the Quays. That’s the focal point for all the interviews – to ask them what their vision would be for the future of the Quays. I think that was something that was never asked of them, not by the city council, not by other journalists. So it was just to actually go there and ask actual people who lived there what they thought of it and how they would like to see it develop.
How do you see the value of Bargaintown now – is it purely nostalgic or can we learn from it?
I’m surprised at the reaction I’m getting to photographs on the website. When you read the comments – thejournal.ie did a piece and some people seem to have this almost hateful attitude towards Dublin’s past. I think when you look at the film it’s not a bleak depressing film about urban decay as some have described it – it’s more about loveable and lively people talking about their city and their neighbourhoods.
Talking about the value that the film might hold – I get a lot of mail, particularly from younger people, who are interested in things like the signage and the craft traditions we feature in the film. A lot of them are gone and if you want any sort of resurrection of that you need the archival material. Nobody else has it. There’s not exactly a wealth of moving or still images of this area and that time.
DIR/WRI/PRO: Miroslav Slaboshpitsky • DOP/ED: Valentyn Vasyanovych • DES: Vlad Odudenko • CAST: Grigoriy Fesenko, Yana Novikova, Rosa Babiy
The Tribe, a film by Miroslav Slaboshpitsky, tells the story of a teenage boy who joins a specialised boarding school for deaf youths and gets involved with some rather unsavoury characters. The film, entirely in Ukrainian sign language, is Slaboshpitsky’s first feature film, which he has written and produced himself, and made the festival circuit last year winning several prizes at Cannes, and took to Locarno, TIFF, and more recently at Palm Springs, garnering enough attention to go on theatrical release in 2015.
There are mixed feelings when it comes to this one and it’s not hard to see why. It can be gamble even when a film with dialogue banks entirely on the ability of a non-professional cast to fully express its meaning. Here, I think, the bad outweighed the good. It’s not the stereotypical representation of the eastern European villain (which is repeated in various novelty archetypes) that confuses, or the difficulty that brings in connecting to characters due to their lack of dimension. It’s not in the places where the film sacrifices credibility for sensationalism, or is it the way you have to continually prevent yourself from categorizing it because of these moments. In terms of innately expressive cinema this had great potential.
I think the trouble with The Tribe is that it leans far too heavily on the gimmick (for the want of a better word) and unfortunately, this reliance means a lot of the action seems disingenuous and overdramatised. For instance, graphic violence features heavily in the film and in a lot of cases is without ground and badly choreographed – when the film’s lead Sergey is being inducted in one of the early fight scenes, he literally kung-fu’s a group of five people, a fight which ends abruptly when the hardened gang leader and challenger gets bitten. In the same vein, some of the sex scenes look like an attempt by the actors to cover each-others private parts. The gang and the woodwork teacher (whose activities include pimping two prostitutes and robbing weaker students) suffer the death of one of their chief members who gets killed on the job, only for him to be erased from the films memory. I’ve never been to the Ukraine, but I’d like to think a teacher would look for him, or his disappearance at least be acknowledged. These scenes are incredulous and over-compensatory – for “in the end, Sergey, the softie turned rapist thief, murders each of the gang members as they sleep in their dorm by smashing their heads in with bedroom lockers. My interpretation is that this is in retaliation for their attempt to traffic the girls, one of whom he loves. Despite one scene where he pays her for sex, this love is totally unsubstantiated. He steals a pile of cash to pay her again, and when she refuses he forces himself on her. Gritty or what.
The boarding school is void of rules and adults, except for the implicit woodwork teacher and his intermittent sidekick, and quite ideal for fantasy-like conditions. There is no real conflict in this film – there are too many dramatic events and not enough circumstance. It’s just one violent event searching blindly after another, and for some kind of realism.
Decidedly, the films saving grace is cinematographer and editor, Valentyn Vasyanovych, without whom it probably wouldn’t have gotten far. The mise-en-scene lends itself to some remarkable tracking shots, opening with a bright-angled shot that follows Sergey up several flights of stairs to his new home, closed by a sudden swoop downhill behind him on his final murderous mission to the dorm. To be fair, aesthetically the film is nothing short of perfect – Slaboshpitsky, it might seem, has a good friend in Vasyanovych.
Grace Corry takes a look at Sé Merry Doyle‘s Talking to My Father, which screened as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.
On a blue racer, Simon Walker cycles into the opening scene of this latest release from Loopline Productions, Talking to my Father. Propping his bike up against a high stone wall, he climbs its frame and a faint, nostalgic laughter sweeps the audience as he peers over to examine the hidden house that he grew up in. As he looks, photographs from the ’60s of a walled futuristic haven in the heart of Dublin city appear on screen – narrated by Simon, we take a pictorial tour of his early youth.
Sé Merry Doyle’s documentary follows Simon on his journey back through his own life and relationship with his father, Robin Walker. Robin was a remarkably talented and prolific figure in the reformation of Ireland’s architecture in what was an emerging, modern nation. Simon, also an architect, traces his memory with his father’s architecture as his guide, travelling Ireland from building to building, conversing with each across what Robin Walker understood to be a breathtakingly beautiful landscape, recognised in his work.
The documentary is in large part about that – the relationship we have with our environment and how architecture, particularly that of Robin Walker, contributes to that relationship.
Speaking to Sé Merry Doyle, he said he wanted to make a documentary about the human story within this, about the bond between father and son and the passion they shared for their art, juxtaposed by society’s transgression of it, highlighting the omnipresent role architecture plays in our lives and how little we value its history. There are certain elements of loss – Simon at times throughout seems unfulfilled by his relationship with his father, but where the humanistic aspects of the film appear wanting, the conversation through architecture deepens and it is these moments that reveal the tenderness felt, reinforced by the past and by his father’s absence.
The scenery is spectacular. We traverse Kenmare and Kinsale to Howth, with cinematographer Patrick Jordan providing long, worshipful shots that pan in time with the imagination thus creating an ease of understanding, lured by Simon’s narration which is in turn punctuated by Patrick Bergin reading Robin’s musings and philosophies that have been lovingly curated by his son. In this rhythm, we understand the importance of the telling of this story between father and son – not just its importance in capturing a story of love, but a story that teaches us that the most powerful and perhaps permanent thing in life is our memory.
Modern architecture in Ireland reached a high point in the early ’60s and one of its most celebrated and influential figures was Robin Walker. Robin studied under Le Corbusier in Paris and later worked alongside Mies van der Rohe in Chicago. His return to Ireland in 1958 coincided with the emergence of an aspiring modern nation. Robin Walker became a key agent in this nation-building process.
A quarter of a century after his death, his son Simon Walker explores the legacy of his father’s life’s work in Talking to My Father. Director, Sé Merry Doyle’s allows Walker’s buildings to speak for themselves, taking us with Simon in his search for Robin’s architecture of place.
Grace Corry sat down with Sé Merry Doyle to discuss his documentary, which screens at this year’sJameson Dublin International Film Festival.
Referring to Robin and Simon’s relationship and how you wanted to represent that in the film, you said that you wanted to capture them as father and son and as architects – was it difficult deciding which relationship to focus on more, or which relationship was more relevant to the film?
Well to me the big thing was that Simon wanted to pay homage to his father, both as a son and as an architect, both being from different eras – Robin’s era was kind of the golden age of modernism in Ireland, Simon is living in a country that’s just coming out of bankruptcy and such. Really, I wanted more of the human story as a film, I didn’t want it to be solely based on architecture in that I was more interested in trying to discover Robin through Simon. So it was kind of a gentle narrative and we worked a lot on that; it was probably the biggest thing we did. It started with me trying to encourage Simon to tackle the boxes and boxes he had of Robin’s writings, and in the end suggested to him to write a letter to his father, and that letter in a way became the application to the Arts Council or at least the central part of it. So that dialogue was always a central part.
Your own interests seem to have been with documenting historically and culturally defining moments in Ireland. Were you aware of how prolific an architect Robin Walker was or how instrumental he was in modernising Ireland?
No, I wasn’t. It was funny that, because I had done a film for instance about James Gannon and Georgian Dublin and made Sculptor of the Empire on John Henry Foley who did the Daniel O’Connell monument in Dublin and the Prince Albert monument in London, so funnily enough this was an area I wanted to dig in to. Simon shares an office with me and I knew how highly regarded his father was but I didn’t know that he had been with Mies van der Rohe (Paris) or Corbusier (Chicago). He studied and worked with both of them and I knew then that he was an individual whose story was worthwhile.
Did you approach this documentary – such an intimate situation and a sensitive subject – differently to how you made Alive Alive O – A Requiem For Dublin where you’re representing several voices or a community voice, as opposed to capturing this quite private discussion between father and son?
I wanted it to be something for all of us, I didn’t want it to be the same as the film I made on Patrick Scott [Golden Boy] – in that case I wanted the individual but this one I was kind of playing with what has happened to Dublin and who looks after it. One of Robin’s great buildings was UCD, which was originally an open plan for the students and now it’s been kind of turned into a supermarket. All the space has been taken away. The new Ireland that was coming after World War II and stagnation and economic failure had new buildings going up all over the place willy-nilly, but again after the oil crash of ’74 that all went away. The film is about whether we are invited into the conversation with those buildings that remain from that time. Do we like them? Do they mean anything to us now? The film is saying no in most cases.
I suppose working so closely with Simon on such a personal project about Robin’s work requires a particular approach to achieve the right balance.
Yeah, well that was delicate, you know, I’m not a Sunday World type of film journalist and I wanted Simon to have a certain amount of control. Once Simon knew that I was making a creative documentary and that there would be no interviews or appraisal type stuff and that it was really just going to be his own journey, that relaxed him. He’s a great writer and we spent hours and hours talking and looking back through his father’s papers and some of that went right into his heart. It was a complicated narrative but a great journey from reading old notes to going and seeing these buildings which made for some great moments in the film, a lot of which surprised me. I invited Simon to go as far as he wanted to go and he did.
So, what’s next for Talking to My Father?
At the moment I’m developing a film called John Huston – The Great White Whale, which is about Moby Dick and Herman Melville and a notion that Moby Dick is God and whoever kills him is akin to the apocalypse. We’re in development with the IFB and we’re very excited.
Talking to My Father screens at the IFI on Tuesday, 24th March @ 6pm as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.